by Jen McNeely
“Just another one champion sound
Yeah Estelle, about to get down
Who the hottest in the world right now?
Just touch down from London town.”
American Boy, Estelle – lyrics sung by Kanye West
Estelle’s new album is a champion sound and if she’s not the hottest in the world right now, she will be soon.
On a road trip last weekend, I must have listened to Estelle’s new album, SHINE on repeat for about four hours. Soul, hip hop, dance hall – rock, it’s all blended together masterfully and songs American Boy, featuring Kanye West, and Wait A Minute are surely set to be the songs you kick it on the dance floor to this summer.
There are artists that I meet and interview who have a lot of promise to be big – but there are very few who you know will sky rocket to fame; get ready because Estelle is about to take on the world.
HA – so fuck you UK. Why do I say that? After years of trying to land a record deal in London, Estelle made the move to NYC and was quickly embraced by the American music industry. In fact, this is quite a taboo subject right now as it is causing media fury (and the British rag mags are the best at this) that the UK music industry doesn’t know how to handle or promote black hip-hop / R&B female artists. With blonde Welsh whitey Duffy battling it out with Estelle for the top of UK charts; quite the buzz is stirring on racial issues within the music industry, warranted or not.
My instantaneous love for Estelle’s album SHINE, made me somewhat intimidated to meet her, but after a few minutes settling into her hotel suite, I became very comfortable and felt like I was chatting with a good friend. Certainly, someone I would have a lot of fun with tearing up the town on a Saturday night bender.
I begin our meeting with an outburst of:
“How the f*ck did you do it? How does one blend so many sounds into, not just an album but a song!? Did you set out to incorporate soul, hip hop, and dance hall, or did it come through the creative process??”
She lets out a laugh.
“It just happened. I listen to so many different styles, it was impossible to not incorporate all at once. I wanted to do something as different as possible. I listen to hip hop and R&B, and soul and gospel, rock – if I hear something rock in a song, then I’ll take the vocals all the way up.”
She comments that upon hearing her twists and turns of a beat or melody, famed producer John Legend would exclaim:
“‘I don’t know what you hear, but this shit don’t sound like no one else’s’, and that’s why John liked me off the bat.”
She admits to being influenced by all genres but it was Ella Fitzgerald that got her hooked.
“I was thirteen, listening to her music on the bus. I used to sit at the back of the bus taking the longest route home, just to listen to her. She grabbed me.”
Like Ella Fitzgerald, Estelle’s music tells a very visual story. It’s cinematic and full of personality.
“I see the music before I sing it, I visualize colours, the background, the video, and everything comes in colour. If I haven’t seen a certain colour, then I’ve missed a note, so I go back and try to fit that colour in. I imagine myself talking the story, doing the video. It’s a very visual process.”
She moved to NYC last May, so how does it compare to London?
“Everything is turbo speed, 24 hour turbo speed! It’s like London on crack. London on speed, London on drugs. I never sleep! I have to switch my phone off in order to just be alone, to breathe. It’s a 24 hour culture consistently, and fast. It’s conducive to the music industry, so it so works.”
Then I dig a bit into the current sensitive subject of UK versus the US, and how she felt the need to leave in order to get heard:
“The American music industry embraces my music more than the London industry. The fans at home get it but the industry was like, ‘…we’ve never heard that before!’ In America they’ve had Mary J Blige, Ella, Brandy & Monica – tons of R&B super stories. I moved there because they wanted to sign me. I tried to get signed at home, I couldn’t. No one wanted to do it, now every one wants to do it!”
No shit. Oops!
Although she’s doing well, signed with Warner and with a killer Producer, she admits it was a bit tough breaking in:
“At first in NYC, music people were like ‘oh who’s that British girl, is she going to be using that gimmick all day, talking like that?’”
(side note, but leave it to the Americans to associate a foreign accent as a ‘gimmick’)
But Estelle stood her ground:
“I was like – ‘LOOK, I’m not going to change my accent…just let me do my shit’, and then they realized that ‘Oh, she has a mouth on her too’ so they left me alone.”
She hasn’t had it easy, but kept pushing and just being herself, looking for opportunities and chasing her dreams, and this is her best advice to fellow young women looking to get into the biz:
“Figure out who you are, don’t be what the industry tells you to be. If you are sexy and that’s your whole shit – be that, if you are hardcore and that’s your whole shit – be that. Don’t fall into a stereotype and become a gimmick, be the person you are going to be 100%. It becomes easier to work with, you have to do a million interviews and if you run in there and try to be a gimmick of what the industry wants you to be, you are going to be bored. If you are all smiling and perfect all the time, then half way through an interview the cracks will start to show, and that’s when they’ll be, ‘SHE’S ACTUALLY CRAZY.’ Once you get negative press, you have to work triple time to repair. Fuck it – just be who you are, its way easier.”
Riled, but in a good way, her response to my next random question was firm and serious.
How would you define your style?
I don’t roll my eyes but smirk because she is her own style through and through – and I’m digging it.
Oh – but she does mention:
“I hate flowers on clothes, you have no idea. I can’t do flowers or prints. I HATE FLOWERS.”
Estelle isn’t a pretty flower but a bold force to be reckoned with who is sincere, funny, tenacious, and confident; a strong role model and a talented artist who is not just a one hit parade but a powerhouse who will be around for a long time.